justice delayed | 

Stardust survivor determined that full inquest into 1981 tragedy will go ahead

"We’ll hold on, we’ll stay strong, and we’re determined that we’re going to get this inquest done, one way or the other"

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

The chairperson of the Stardust Victims’ Committee, Antoinette Keegan, is determined that a full inquest into the 1981 tragedy, in which two of her sisters died, will go ahead next year.

It follows on from revelations that the lease to use the RDS in Dublin for the inquest is to expire in mid-February of next year with no new venue set aside.

The process to examine the St Valentine’s Day fire, in which 48 people died and more than 200 were injured, was repeatedly delayed this year, and in October the relatives of the victims were informed that an alternative location will need to be found.

The issue was raised recently by Sinn Féin senator Lynn Boylan who said the failure to find a venue was causing unnecessary stress for the families of victims heading into Christmas.

“I have a made a commitment to the families of those who died in the Stardust fire that I would never stop advocating for them and fighting on their behalf,” she said.

“On February 22, the arrangement between the Department of Justice and the RDS for the location of the inquest will expire.

“And while assurances have been given by the Department of Justice that they're working on a venue I think it's only fair to say that the State’s track record on the Stardust has been one of systemic abuse of the families and they're therefore rightly anxious.

“Now the Minister for Justice must give the families some certainty ahead of Christmas.”

However, the fact that no new assurances have been received means the families now face new challenges in the New Year, which Ms Keegan said they were determined to overcome.

“After February we will have no venue,” Ms Keegan said. “The Department of Justice leased it for one year and in the last year we had a lockdown while all that money was wasted on renting an empty RDS.

“And now the lease is up at the end of February and then we’re out and at the moment we have nowhere else to go.

“The department told us they were trying to get this sorted out, but we still have no word. We just don't know what's happening anymore, to be honest. At this moment in time, we should have been told where we're going be in the New Year but we haven’t.

“But it will go ahead because it has to go ahead, by order of the attorney general.”

Ms Keegan said they had asked for Dublin Castle originally as the location of the inquest, as it is centrally located, but it was decided that it would go ahead in the RDS “which was never a suitable venue”.

Stardust victims' families have campaigned for more than 40 years

“There would have been people flying over from England into Dublin Airport who then could have had a transport link for the city centre.

“We would have had people traveling from Derry and Belfast coming down on the train as well, so for all of them the RDS was out of the way.”

For many years since the Stardust families had been calling for fresh inquiries into what is still Ireland’s worst fire tragedy.

In 2009, the Dáil heard that the original arson finding was "hypothetical" and agreed that no one who was there that night could be held responsible.

In September 2019, the Attorney General ordered that a new inquest be conducted into the deaths of the 48 victims.

Families welcomed the granting of the inquest as they believe it could provide answers they have been seeking for 40 years.

Antoinette Keegan was in the Stardust on the night the fire broke out. She escaped, badly injured, but her two sisters, Mary and Martina, died in the blaze.

Her mother Christine Keegan, who died in July 2020, had campaigned for decades for a new inquiry into the fire.

“Today is my mam’s birthday and she would have been 86,” Antoinette said.

“I always felt that she was looking over my shoulder, encouraging me to carry on, and I still feel that.

“Justice delayed is justice denied but we will have it. We've held on for 40 years now and as my mam used to say, ‘what's another year?’

“We’ll hold on, we’ll stay strong, and we’re determined that we’re going to get this inquest done, one way or the other.

“If it has to be held in the Phoenix Park, in an open space, so be it. I don't care where we do it.”

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